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Get Out of a Teaching Rut and Stop Being Complacent

Get Out of a Teaching Rut and Stop Being Complacent

Being in a teaching rut can get tedious, draining, and even boring. But being complacent can be dangerous.

This episode is for those of us who are feeling the shine wear off teaching, feeling like we might need something a bit shiny and new, but don’t necessarily want to throw in the towel just yet.

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Show Notes

You can find the Classroom Activity Generator here!


Hello, my lovely people. Welcome to Staffroom Stories. I’m your host, Emily Aslin. And I’m here to bring you the topics that Australian teachers are talking about behind their closed staff room doors. Join me each episode, usually with an incredible guest, to explore the things we’re talking about as well as the things that we ought to know, enjoy.

Hi folks, I’m going solo for this one today. There’s no interview, no guests today. It’s just me. But before I jump in, I wanna say a great big thank you to Kate who has left me an incredibly kind review on Apple Podcasts. I’m gonna read to you what she wrote.

She said, “It’s a great, listen, not only for teachers, but anyone that works with children or has children of their own. Love that you don’t shy away from talking about a side of teaching we don’t normally hear about. Looking forward to next week, keep up the great work!” This message is really humbling for me.

Thank you so much, Kate, for leaving a review. . I don’t even really have the words to express what this sort of thing actually does mean for me, it’s very gratifying, and it just warms my heart to know that people are actually enjoying the podcast. So if you are enjoying the podcast, if you’re on apple podcast or if you’re listening directly through Podbean, please jump on and leave me a rating or a review. It does actually help the algorithm, show this podcast to others who might enjoy it. So it’s not just about listenership anymore. How many downloads you’ve got on a podcast episode?

It is also actually about the reviews and the ratings that get left behind. So you taking a few moments to leave me a rating or a review can help other people to find this podcast and hopefully enjoy it as well. Unfortunately Google podcast does not have any option whatsoever for any reviews or ratings.

So if that’s who you’re listening through, you won’t be able to do this, unfortunately, unless you jump onto the Podbean website. And I think you can leave a review directly there, but anyway, getting back to the topic of the day. Today, I want to talk to you about getting stuck in a teaching rut. So this is the topic that’s been playing on my mind for years and years and years, how to not get yourself stuck in a rut with your teaching techniques.

For this one today, I’m going to focus in on those of us who are in a rut, but don’t want to, or can’t change schools. Because changing schools is a very quick way to get out of a rut. You have a whole new system to learn new faces, new students, new processes, often new ways of approaching the curriculum.

All that sort of stuff. It can be very invigorating to try out a new school. And that’s actually what I’ve done myself. So I’m working in a new school this year. And I’ve actually changed sectors from secondary to primary and gotta say that’s a very, very fast way to get out of a rut, cuz it’s all new.

But same with extra responsibilities and leadership positions. There’s no quicker way to get out of a rut than to just do something new. So taking on extra responsibilities , seeing if you can get promoted into a leadership position, that’ll get you out of a rut really quickly too. But if you can’t do those things or you simply don’t want to this conversation today is for you.

I want to focus in on the ways that we teach content and how that can impact our happiness with our job and also impact our students.

There are so many different ways to teach content. And in your first few years as a teacher, you tend to be very enthusiastic and try out a whole heap of them. You probably learned about a lot of them during uni. You would’ve seen a lot on your pracs and you just, you have so much enthusiasm and energy and you just wanna try them all and see which ones work.

And over time you do work out which ones work best for you as a teacher, and which ones tend not to work out so well. Because everybody has different teaching styles, different teaching techniques and approaches and activities work better for different people. And that’s fine. That’s, you know, that’s to be expected. You tend to cling to the ones that work best, obviously, and you incorporate them into your lessons all the time.

So for me, one of my favorite activities is a gallery walk where you have different bits of content around the room, and the students physically move around to interact with the content in some way, eventually going to each individual one.

So I’ve seen this and done this with images where students form opinions on what they see. I’ve done it with questions where students answer each question before moving on, uh, the most common way that I’ve used a gallery walk is to have short texts around the room, like maybe a paragraph or so , and I usually have an image to accompany. And the students have to summarize the information in written or drawn formats.

So this one works particularly well for high school students, where you can have content that involves a lot of different versions of something, for example, ways of weathering and erosion or different habitat types. So you might have a different habitat at each station around the room and the students have to go and summarize that information.

Because I was so comfortable with that teaching technique, it became really quick and easy for me to set it up, even for a topic that I’d never taught before. It was also easy for me to teach it to new classes. Because I’d set it up and done it so many times, I could very quickly show students who haven’t done it before what I expected of them, and the ones that had done it before fell into routine really well each time that I did it again.

Now there’s nothing wrong at all with using a favorite technique over and over again. I mean, it’s like everything in parenting. It’s not a problem until it’s a problem. And the biggest problem here is that you can actually get yourself stuck in the same teaching techniques to the exclusion of others.

But again, that’s not a problem until it’s a problem, right? And the flow on problem here is a little bit odd. It can get boring to be teaching the same content in the same way, year after year. Yes. Look, I said it. Teaching can get boring. I’m sure a lot of you are recoiling in horror at that statement. I mean, how can a job as busy and demanding and as dynamic as the one that we have, how can this get boring?

One of the reasons I’ve stuck with teaching for the past decade is the novelty. The challenge, the ever-changing landscape. It’s enough to keep me sucked in, where other jobs in the past have quickly become very stale. But I’ve fallen into my own trap with teaching over the years where I’ve got myself into a rut with the content and the way I teach it.

And when that happens, it can get boring. But yes, while it’s boring, it’s also convenient. It takes a whole lot less time to just reuse old resources, adapting them a little bit to the new class, than it does to create a whole new one. I mean, this is something that we obviously tell beginning teachers ” don’t reinvent the wheel”.

If you’ve got resources that work, use them, because it does take time to create new ones and it even takes time to find new ones. And then once you’ve found them, of course, you should adapt them to your own class, but in that time saving process, when you get yourself into this position where you can rehash old content, you can just pick up and run with teaching techniques that you’ve used over and over.

I mean, I, myself got to the point where I had whole units of work that I could pretty much just walk into the class and teach with no preparation. Because I’ve done it that many times before, and it works so well for me. And it just takes some mental adaptation to suit the class that’s in front of me.

And that is a huge time saving process. If you’re not having to create units of work or even lessons, because you can just reuse ones that you’ve been using for a while, that saves you so much time. And during that time saving process, the teaching work life balance swings a little bit more towards the life side.

And that’s lovely. That’s a true life saver. I can’t overstate enough how important that is to be able to shift that work life balance into the life side a little bit. Shift that pendulum towards the life side, rather than the work side. And one of the, the easiest way for us teachers to do that is to reuse old content.

I’m all for making life as easy as possible. We have enough going on. If you can make your life that little bit more simple by reusing old content, then you should. And if you can help out a colleague by providing them with resources, you’ve made a hundred percent, you should do that. I see a lot of teacher.

They can get very guarded over their resources. They’re saying, “well, no, I’ve created this for my class. You can’t use it.” But the reality is the 30 odd students in your class are using it. And the other reality is all of your teaching resources that you create are the intellectual property of your employer.

So you actually don’t have a legal right to refuse another teacher at your school, the resources that you’ve made.

But anyway, when you get to the point where all of your teaching resources are reused, all of your teaching resources are very comfortable and you’ve got that across the board. It can get boring.

I know a lot of teachers go into this career, partly because of the creativity. You have to use that creative part of your mind to craft information in such a way that a child or a teenager is going to understand it. And for most of us, we try and do that in such a way that they’re also going to enjoy it.

And that takes a huge amount of creativity. And when you lose the ability to have that creativity, it gets boring and you can get complacent and being complacent, that can get a little bit dangerous. I’m talking here particularly to those veteran teachers who, you know, you’ve seen all of the old pedagogies repackaged and they sell ’em to us as brand new teaching techniques.

And you think, well, yeah, this is the same thing that I’ve been doing for the last 12 years. You’ve just put a name on it now. They sell us these brand new, absolutely must do, this will change everything techniques. But to those veteran teachers, you’ve seen all these fads come and go and you get very tired of all of the unnecessary changes, of all the unnecessary labels.

These veteran teachers, they have their behavior management down. They have their content knowledge secured. They have all their tricks and tips and find the actual teaching side of their job pretty easy. Outside, of course, of all the administrative nonsense that keeps piling up. But that’s a, you know, story for another day.

And when it’s all too easy, you can start to feel like you need something else. This is the time when some teachers will choose to take on extra responsibilities or maybe even, you know, move into leadership positions. But if you’re like me and you just don’t really have those aspirations, you can get dangerously complacent.

You can get to the point where you aren’t really planning anything anymore because you just don’t need to. And while that’s absolutely fantastic for your work life balance, it can be to the detriment of your students. You can inadvertently use techniques and activities that aren’t actually best suited for your class, but you use them anyway, because they’re ready to go. And you didn’t have to think about them. You didn’t have to stay up till 11 o’clock last night, creating something. You just open up your files and go back to what you did last year. And then you just reuse. And when this happens, you can accidentally forget about those students in your class who might need particular adjustments. And those adjustments may not be incorporated into your ready made resources. You can also forget about the unique dynamics of this particular class and how that can impact the success of the activity.

Beyond the class themselves, it can impact you. You can start feeling like you’ve got itchy feet. Like maybe you need a change of scenery or a change of career altogether. You can feel like you’re not as good of a teacher as you used to be simply because you haven’t truly adapted your activities to the class in front of.

You can be sitting there, scratching your head, wondering why the activity didn’t work while your students just aren’t getting it. Maybe even why you seem to be slipping in your behavior management. And it can all come back to you being in a teaching rut.

So how do you get out of it? How do you make sure you don’t get stuck in a rut in the first place? The answer is a little bit disheartening. It actually involves you spending a little more time working on your work.

Over the years, as you get more comfortable and better at the job, you don’t need to spend as much time planning, like even your marking gets quicker.

And that is every teacher’s dream. Get to the point where you’re doing as little work at home as possible. But if you find yourself feeling a bit stuck and a bit down, getting a bit depressed about your job, maybe looking at those media reports and going, oh, maybe I should be, you know, quitting teaching too, cuz everyone else is, maybe I should be looking at what else is out there.

If you’re finding yourself in that position. I really encourage you to actually set aside some time to go back to the basics and plan a few lessons like you used to when you’re a beginning teacher.

Again, I can, uh, feel some of you recoiling in horror at that.

Why on earth would I wanna spend more time when I’m finally at a position that I can spend less time, but remember what I said before?

This isn’t a problem until it’s a problem. And the problem is you feeling stuck. You feeling bored and you being complacent. So if you are at that place where you are stuck, bored and or complacent, go back to the beginning. Really map out your class, think about their personalities and think about any adjustments that you need to be making.

Think really critically about the content you need to teach and list down a few different ways you could teach it. Even jump online and have a look at the misconceptions that students can have about your content that you’re teaching at the moment. And see if you can work that into your lessons.

Once you’ve listed down a few different ways that you could teach this content, there might be ways you’ve taught it before. There might be new ways that you’ve come up with. Explore each option before deciding on one. Have a good think about what each pathway would look like, what activities you might need. Is that activity actually going to work with the students that are in your class? And once you’ve decided on one way that you’re actually going to teach the content, spend the necessary time to go through your resources, that you might already have go through resources online, and make sure they are truly suited to the class at hand. Make sure your information is update and hasn’t become outdated. And, you know, particularly in a subject like science, where there may actually be new scientific knowledge that supersedes what you’ve been teaching the past few years. If you’re teaching a subject like music or English, see if there’s a new or a different text that you could be using or a different musical piece that you could be using to teach the same content, but in a different way to the way you’ve done it in the past.

If you’re a social media person, you might even like to jump on something like TikTok and do a search around and see what other people are doing. Or see if there’s a current trend that you can piggyback off as a way to teach your content. Or not even a way to teach it, but maybe a focal point. Could be the song that’s the backing song to a viral TikTok dance, for example. Okay. And that’s something that’s really gonna draw your students in because that’s culturally relevant to them now.

So you could see if there’s anything new that you could update, like your images, different ways that you could word your texts, for example. Something that I have seen another teacher do was instead of having a paragraph, they made it into like a messaging conversation between two people. So just even simple ways to present a paragraph in a different way.

So you’re gonna look at something like the life cycle of a plant, and maybe instead of having pictures of a Daisy, you might go online and find animations of a sunflower. And that simple little change can be enough for your brain to go, oh, this is a bit different. This is a bit novel.

Once you’ve made sure that, you know, all your information’s up to date, you’ve got new images, you’ve got new wording, you’ve got new ways to present the content. See if there are new or different activities that you can use to get your students actively engaged in the learning of this content. So have a look at, you know, maybe something that you’ve traditionally taught explicitly.

See if there’s a way that you can flip that back onto the students. so that they’re doing active activities to learn the content instead. Or if, for example, for me, if I’ve always done this part of this content as a gallery walk, what’s a different way that I could present that information. What’s a different activity that I could use to get the students actively involved and engaged in this content in a different way than what I’m used to.

But one thing to remember is that with every new type of activity, you’ll probably have to explicitly teach your students how to do it. Try not to forget that they are likely new at this. Even if you’ve literally done it a hundred times before yourself and the activity might seem very obvious and intuitive, your students may genuinely have never done this activity before.

So don’t forget to take the time to explicitly teach them your expectations around any new activity that you’re going to teach them.

The whole point of this is for you to get your creative juices flowing again. When you go back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to how you used to plan lessons as a beginning teacher, you’re gonna start bringing out those creative ways of thinking that you used to rely on for your teaching.

And if you do that over and over for a while, so re-plan a few different lessons, a few different pieces of content. You’re gonna get your creative juices flowing again in much more stronger ways, and that’s gonna make you feel reinvigorated. Because creativity is a skill. It is something that you can practice and enhance over time.

You think about marketers, for example, who are writing adverts, they get better and better at writing adverts the more that they do it. and writing an advert is a very creative process and it involves a, a dynamic range of skills and you only get better at those skills by practicing them.

So if you want to try and get yourself out of a bit of a rut of feeling bored, try and get your creative juices flowing again.

And I mean, part of all of this, of, you know, feeling bored, feeling a bit down, getting complacent is the overarching fact that we tend to simply forget what activities are out there. We latch onto our favorite ones and we run with them. And of course we do because they become easier and they save us time.

But we tend to just forget that there are other ways to teach stuff. And then all of a sudden, another teacher will tell you about an activity that they’re doing and you sit there and wonder how you forgot about that activity. You think oh, the last time I tried, that was in 2008. If you find yourself thinking that way about an activity, I’d say it’s about time that you drag that activity out of the box and give it another go.

Get curious and think about trying for yourself some activities that you’ve forgotten about. And I mean, that’s another surefire way to get out of a rut. Is to ask other teachers how they are approaching the content and then commit yourself to trying someone else’s way of doing it.

If you have the ability go and watch them teach it in a way that you normally don’t. Go and observe a different subject or a different year level. So it doesn’t even have to be the activity that you are planning on redesigning or the, the content that you’re planning on redesigning. Go and observe another teacher teaching something else, and then actively reflect on how you can incorporate what you see into your own lessons.

And that’s the key there. Once you’ve committed yourself to this whole process, you need to follow through you can’t just go and watch another teacher or even, you know, watch someone on YouTube, teaching something a particular way. And then. Oh, that’s interesting and file it away and never think of it again, because you’re still gonna be stuck in the rut.

You need to take these ideas and you need to try ’em for yourself. If you can’t or if you just don’t want to ask around your school and observe your colleagues, the next logical step is to jump on the internet and do a quick search. So you’ll find a gazillion different ways to teach whatever topic you are thinking about redesigning. Just be mindful of places like Instagram and Pinterest, where by design everything looks absolutely aesthetically beautiful. I mean, that’s the point of those social media platforms is the aesthetics. That’s their selling point. So just remember that just because it looks beautiful, doesn’t mean it’s effective and doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for your class. And on the flip side, just because something isn’t beautiful doesn’t mean it won’t be effective and doesn’t mean it isn’t right for your class.

And teaching really shouldn’t be a competition for what looks best, even though Instagram will tell you otherwise it’s about what’s best for the kids. Okay. Not how it looks. You can have a really, really effective and successful worksheet, for example, that isn’t aesthetically beautiful and that’s okay because the outcome is what we’re after here.

And the outcome should be the engagement and the learning of our students, not how many likes we can get on Instagram. Right.

Another avenue that you can explore too, is if you have a curriculum leader at your school in some capacity, so it could be head of department, or in a primary school, you may actually just have a whole school curriculum leader go and talk to them, ask them for ideas of different ways to present your content.

Or if you don’t have somebody like that, you can turn to, or you just don’t want to turn to them, ask a colleague, say, Hey, I’m teaching the water cycle this term. Can, can we have a chat about ways that I can do this? Cause I feel like I’m a bit stuck in the way that I’ve always taught it. And I wanna try something different.

These sorts of conversations with your colleagues are absolutely invaluable. And if you haven’t, or you don’t want to talk to anyone in your own school about this, then, you know, jump online, jump onto those Facebook teacher groups that you’re likely part of. If you’re not part of Facebook teacher groups, but you’re on Facebook, it’s worth seeking out, some positive and helpful groups that you can have these sorts of conversations in. Of course, like any other social media avenue there are a lot of teacher groups that can get quite toxic. So just be mindful of that. And if you find yourself unhappy with the group that you’re part of, just leave it, you under no obligation to be part of any social media, let alone a Facebook group. But they can be really, really invaluable sources of ideas, information, and having other people to bounce off.

So on my own website, I’ve just launched a new little system to help out in this whole vein as well. This has come from my own need to just simply remember what types of activities are out there. I mean, this whole conversation was born of my own complacency in the classroom.

I got too comfortable and confident in my activity choices and I got bored and it’s part of the reason I started this podcast actually, and the entire reason I spent a month developing this new section of my website. So it’s called the Classroom Activity Generator. And it’s exactly that. It’s really simple. I will say right off the bat, this is a free thing. I’m not trying to sell you anything. You can check it out or not. If you’re a hundred percent not interested, feel free to stop listening to the, this podcast episode now.

But if you are interested, basically, it’s really, really simple. You go to the page, it has a whole heap of different categories. You click on the category that you want, and it will show you an activity to suit. So for example, you might want an activity that your students can do in pairs. So you click the pairs button and it will take you to a random activity that is done in pairs.

And it’s got a little description there for you. All of the activities are purposefully generic. They’re kind of like activity bases designed for you to adapt to your specific content and year, level, and class. So if we continue with the pairs example, one of them is an activity called taboo.

This is where two students work together to review the content. So one is facing the board and the other is facing. On the board is a list of key terms. The student facing the board has to describe these key terms in such a way that the student facing away can correctly guess them. Of course, they can’t say things like it rhymes with, or it starts with, it should be like a proper description that they’ve learned during the course of the unit.

And this one’s particularly fun because you set a timer and say, you’ve got 60 seconds. And, you know, the pair that guesses the most key terms correct. In that 60 seconds perhaps wins a prize. So this random Classroom Activity Generator at the moment, I’ve got just over 40 activities in there and it’s growing all the time as I find new ones, rediscover old ones, and I convert them into a little, little card that goes up on the. so you just click the category you want, it’ll give you an idea. If you don’t like that idea, hit the refresh button and it’ll give you a new one. Or if you decide you wanna change categories, there’s a button at the bottom of the page to go back, to choose a different category.

I made this purely because I kept forgetting the different types of activities out there. And I wanted something where I could very quickly get ideas. This isn’t a place to get complete ready made resources. It is just a place to get ideas.

And of course it’s free. But I am considering the idea of a physical version of all of the activities on little cards. You can, you know, pull out of a stack of physical cards. So if you’re the type of person that prefers physical to digital , let me know and I’ll get onto organizing that. The physical cards probably would come with a cost because you know, it’s gonna cost me to actually have them printed.

So if you wanna use this generator to help you with activity ideas, and to get you out of a rut or stop you from getting in a rut in the first place, it’s just on the website.

You just go to and classroom activities is just one word. If you happen to have a favorite classroom activity and you have a feeling it may not be on that list , send it through to me. You can send it through on Facebook or Instagram or via the contact form of the site and I’ll add it into the mix.

So the takeaway from all of this is quite simple, though it does involve a time investment. Consider the content you are teaching and look for new ways for your students to engage with it. Look for new ways for you to engage with it. It might mean making simple adjustments from previous years, like changing images, for example, or it might mean a complete overhaul of that content to something you haven’t tried in a while or something absolutely brand new to you.

And remember, you can get ideas from my Classroom Activity Generator, you can get ideas from other parts of the internet. You can get ideas from people in your own staff room or on the online communities. And of course, obviously you can get new ideas out of your own head, or if you have kids at home, ask them, they’ll tell you what they enjoy doing at school. And you can probably adapt that up to what you need. Whichever way you go about it. It will help breathe a bit of new life into your teaching practice. And by breathing that new life you are getting those creative juices flowing. You’re using parts of your brain that may have gone a bit dormant. It will reinvigorate your teaching practice and can help you stay out of a rut or get out of a rut and help you keep away from that feeling of boredom, which at the moment, that feeling of boredom combined with the base level of stress that we’re all feeling right now, that’s a dangerous place to be in if you want to continue teaching long term. That boredom combined with that stress is a sure fire way to burn out. So please, I really encourage you. If you feel like you’re stuck in a bit of a teaching rut, revamp your work a bit, get those creative juices flowing, go back to basics and see if that helps.

And that’s all I’ve got for you today. Thanks for listening.

If you’d like to continue the conversation, come and join us over on Facebook in the group called The Teacher Community by Staffroom Stories. And you can also find us on Facebook and Instagram @StaffroomStories. You can also check out the blog at for full podcast, episode transcripts, as well as articles about a whole range of other staffroom topics.

If you liked what you heard today, I’d love for you to tell your friends and colleagues about this podcast. And if you would leave me a review or whatever service you’re listening through, this helps others to find us. Thank you for gifting me some time out of your day. I hope the rest of it treats you.


Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash


Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys sharing the real and human teacher life, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine.

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